The Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is an aquatic perennial plant native to Asia with pink or white flowers. Because of its graceful beauty, it is commonly grown in water gardens throughout the World and has become naturalized in many countries. Sacred Lotus are very common sight in Thailand, like this pink-flowered one growing in a large urn of water in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.
Although it looks somewhat similar to a Water Lily (Nymphaeaceae), the Sacred Lotus is in a different plant family (Nelumbonaceae), and it can be distinguished from similar Water Lilies by its distinctive leaves and seed heads. Sacred Lotus leaves are elevated above the water, while Water Lily leaves generally rest on the surface of the water. Sacred Lotus seed heads look like the perforated spouts of watering cans, and they will eventually become a dry, woody brown when the large seeds are mature. The dried seed heads are quite interesting-looking and can be used in flower arrangements.
The Sacred Lotus has great religious significance and many symbolic meanings in both Buddhism and Hinduism, and it is commonly found in Buddhist and Hindu art and literature and in Sanskrit scriptures. Rooted in the dark mud, Sacred Lotus plants grow up through the murky water to leaf and flower in the air and light, and in Buddhism, this growth represents the journey of the soul from the mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, to the arrival at enlightenment.
Not only is the Sacred Lotus a beautiful ornamental plant with great religious significance, it is also a common food plant in many parts of Asia. The flowers, young leaves, rhizomes, and seeds are all edible.